Weekender: Solo snipers, a trip to the seaside & Italy's lack of Ballons

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1) Contrite Tractors trundle to the seaside
You can tell there's a recession on if clubs are feeling contrition toward their "customers". Arsenal have apologised for their abject annihilation at Old Trafford by offering fans free tickets, following similar post-pasting offerings by Energie Cottbus and Wigan's players. And this weekend Ipswich will attempt to make up for their 7-1 thrashing at Peterborough by laying on free buses to Blackpool, their longest away trip of the season. The Tractors normally tear up the Tangerines, too: Ipswich have beaten Blackpool eight times, drawn seven and only lost three times. And nothing says "Sorry" like three points.

2) Italy needs to grow some Ballons
Serie A finally gets under way this weekend after the first round of matches was postponed due to strike action, but you could be forgiven for feeling something was still missing. Following Brazil international Ronaldinho's move from AC Milan to Flamengo in January, there are now no Ballon d'Or winners currently active in the Italian top flight for the first time since 1982. Could this be a further sign of a decline in the quality of Italian club football, following the country's slide down UEFA's coefficient rankings in recent seasons?
BLOG Follow the Italian action with Serie Aaaargh!

3) Second-tier Three Lions aplenty
Despite losing Scott Parker to Spurs last week, West Ham are still keeping the Football League's England flag flying. There are 11 second-tier players with England caps – Michael Ball, Darius Vassell, David Nugent, Nicky Barmby, David James, Kevin Phillips, Anthony Gardener, Lee Bowyer, Robert Green, Carlton Cole, David Bentley – with the last three all plying their trade at Upton Park. Perhaps not all names you would class as international quality, but the likes of Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren, Sven-Göran Eriksson and Kevin Keegan thought differently...

4) Strikers should (almost) never go back home
Craig Bellamy’s not your typical striker, which is good news for Kenny Dalglish. Forwards returning to a former club usually fare much worse, as can be seen by analysing the goal returns of 10 Premier League-era strikers who have returned for a second period at the same club. In their original spells, the 10 players we assessed scored 798 goals in 1704 matches – an average of a goal every 2.1 games. Upon their return they notched 276 in 824, averaging a goal every 2.95 games. Only one of the strikers did better in his second spell: Can you guess who it was?
BLOG Imperfect 10: The strikers' suspect second spells

5) Solo sniper Cristiano can outgun Getafe
Cristiano Ronaldo has good cause to be confident of outscoring Getafe, the side he and Real Madrid will face this weekend. The Portuguese forward has scored 69 league goals for los Merengues since arriving at the club in 2009, two more than the 67 the entire Getafe squad have netted during their collective time at the Coliseum club. Mind you, he's had enough practice: since 2006/07 C-Ron has had by far the most shots in Europe's top five leagues with 1,017 attempts – 335 clear of nearest challenger Wayne Rooney (662).
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The past seven days have taken England within touching distance of Euro 2012, left Scotland’s hopes hanging by a thread and totally dashed the hopes of Northern Ireland and Wales. Spain, Holland and Italy, meanwhile, have all booked their tickets for next summer's jaunt to Ukraine and Poland.

The praise following England’s comfortable 3-0 victory in Bulgaria didn't last long, with more questions being asked of Fabio Capello after a nervous 1-0 Wembley win over Wales. While Capello's final home game was unconvincing, Gary Speed will be hugely encouraged by Friday evening's 2-1 victory against Montenegro and a confident performance in London, when his young team recorded 10 shots to England's 11 and lost to the only effort either side got on target.

Scotland were seething after two dubious penalty calls in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic left them with an almighty struggle to grab second spot behind Spain in Group I. Steven Naismith kept their slim hopes alive in a 1-0 win over Lithuania.

Northern Ireland are out after a 4-1 defeat to Estonia led to calls for manager Nigel Worthington to be sacked. Republic of Ireland held firm against a dominant Russia in Moscow to secure a credible 0-0 draw and maintain second place in their group.

Holland secured their place for next summer thanks in part to a thumping 11-0 win against minnows San Marino with Robin van Persie grabbing four, while Spain maintained their 100% record with a 6-0 win over Liechtenstein despite dropping Fernando Torres. Meanwhile, an 85th-minute winner courtesy of Giampaolo Pazzini means Italy will be there – unlike Zlatko Kranjcar, sacked by Montenegro despite the Balkans sitting second in England's group. Tough game, this football.

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Don’t scold Mourinho, enjoy him - warts and all

For most, the prospect of international football providing a timely distraction when the world’s disapproving gaze is negatively focused upon your behaviour would be, at the very least, a stroke of good fortune. Somehow, it seems highly unlikely Jose Mourinho will see it that way.

Real Madrid started the season with an impressive and purposeful 6-0 victory over Real Zaragoza, but focus had remained upon Mourinho’s petulance against Barcelona, when he prodded the eye of Barca coach Tito Vilanova.

Speculation grew that he was set to resign as Real’s manager, that he had lost the backing of the club’s board and that his distasteful conduct warranted severe punishment.
To let the incident pass without consequence would unquestionably be wrong and set a dangerous precedent, but to hound one of football’s best managers away from one of the world’s biggest clubs and the sport’s most intense rivalry would be equally nonsensical.

Imagine a world without him, where every press conference is conducted in the monotonous tones of Glenn Roeder, Chris Hutchings, or Howard Wilkinson. Every defeat is accepted with the utmost grace, while refereeing decisions are half-heartedly criticised.

He may be arrogant and curt, and he can be devious, but Mourinho’s one of the best and he doesn’t care who he upsets in his bid for success. It’s time to appreciate him, warts and all.

– Declan Warrington, blogger - read the full feature here

We're busily transferring over 15 years of FFT interviews to our online archive. Among the 400 we've uploaded so far:

I'd run over a dragon in my Range Rover"
Ask A Silly Question, Nov 2010: John Hartson

"For some reason, I've become known as 'Lips'"
Boy's A Bit Special, Jan 2006: Anton Ferdinand

"I caught one with a Malteser, one with a Sugar Puff"
My Secret Vice, May 2007: Jimmy Bullard

This Weekender was brought to you by James Maw, Gary Parkinson, James Lewis, Chris McDonald, Izzie Boulert and the good folks at Opta.